Tips: Celebrate with safety this Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2014 | 9:30 am


Bakersfield is rich with culture, especially within our Hispanic community. This Cinco de Mayo (May 5) will undoubtedly bring celebration citywide.

It’s important, however, to keep safety in mind today whether you are celebrating around town, or are traveling through local streets during this holiday. The popularity of Cinco de Mayo celebrations, especially among young people, has brought about some problems — alcohol-involved crashes.

Bakersfield Police Department and other local law enforcement has traditionally bumped up enforcement around this holiday.

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives some sobering stats:

  • From 2008 to 2012, 233 people were killed in drunken driving crashes on Cinco de Mayo. 
  • In 2012, almost half (45 percent) of all traffic crash deaths on Cinco de Mayo involved drunk driving.

To increase your chances of enjoying a safe Cinco de Mayo celebration, the safety administration recommends that you plan ahead, and:

  • Designate your sober driver before the festivities begin.
  • If you’ve been drinking, call a friend or taxi, or use public transportation to get home.
  • Contact your local police if you see a drunk driver on the road. 
  • If you know people who are about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them find a safe ride home.

As the statistics show, DUI crashes and incidents are still bound to happen. The Bakersfield accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles also have some tips in the unfortunate case you are the victim in an accident.

The attorneys at CCS are passionate about keeping our streets as safe as possible. In fact, the law firm has partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County in the first Bakersfield “Walk (Run) Like MADD” fundraiser, which will be held this September.

Below are several “Frequently Asked Questions” and answers from the Bakersfield law firm’s website related to DUI accidents, and what you should do if you are ever a victim. And remember, if you are ever involved in an accident, call the firm at 661-323-4000.

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Does the law differentiate between people who are killed or seriously injured by drunk drivers as opposed to people who are injured or killed by people driving under the influence of street drugs or prescription drugs?

No. The law makes no distinction between driving under the influence of alcohol, street drugs or prescription drugs. That is why the term “DUI,” which means “driving under the influence” is used to describe the crime rather than “drunk driving.”

Who can sue in a DUI case?

Any person who is injured by the wrongful conduct of a person driving under the influence, or the survivors of someone who was killed by a defendant who was driving under the influence, can bring a lawsuit against the defendant driver and any other person or entity who was responsible for the accident.

Is it easier to prove a drunk driving case than a case in which a person is driving under the influence of drugs?

Yes. The relationship between a high blood alcohol level and driver impairment is well known and well established. The same relationship between prescription and street drugs has been far less studied and is not within the common knowledge of most drivers and jurors. Thus, drunk driving cases are easier to prove.

What if the person who injured me was found to be driving under the influence, but I feel like I also was probably at fault. Can I bring a lawsuit?

Yes. California is a comparative negligence State. This means that you can sue any responsible party even if you are partially at fault in the accident. However, your damage award will be reduced by the percentage of your own negligence.

How impaired must a defendant be for there to be a presumption under the law that the defendant was negligent?

A defendant will be presumed to be negligent for causing an accident if you can establish that the driver’s physical or mental abilities were so impaired by the drug or alcohol use that they could not drive with the caution or ability of a person of ordinary prudence and skill in similar circumstances. Thus, a person can have a few drinks or drive under the influence of prescription drugs without being presumed to be negligent.

Will expert testimony be necessary for me to establish that the other driver was under the influence?

Probably. Usually a toxicologist will have to be called at trial to establish the level of alcohol and/or drugs in a person’s body. In addition, a human factors expert may be necessary to testify to the relationship between the blood alcohol or drug level and driver impairment

What damages can I recover in a wrongful death or serious Drunk Driving Accidents case stemming from the negligence of a defendant who was driving under the influence?

The injured person is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical treatment, past and future wage loss, damages for pain, suffering, and emotional distress. Further, plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages. If the injured person dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for their economic losses that result from the injured person’s death, as well as monetary damages which stem from the loss of society, care, and comfort of the decedent.

What do I need to establish to prove punitive damages in a case in which the defendant was driving under the influence?

First of all, punitive damages are not recoverable in California in any wrongful death case. If your loved one has died, you can only claim punitive damages if they survived for at least a few moments after the collision that killed them. To recover punitive damages in an injury or a “survivor” action against a person who was driving under the influence, you must prove that:

  • That the defendant voluntarily drank or took drugs to the point of intoxication/impairment before they knew that they would be driving;
  • That the defendant was convicted of a felony under Civil Code Section 3245(d).
  • They were aware of the probable dangerous consequences of their conduct; and,
  • They willfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences.

Special settlement considerations in drunk driving cases?

Whether or not an insurance company wants to admit it, the jurors’ focus in a case in which the defendant was driving under the influence will be on the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct more than it will be on the extent of a plaintiff’s damages. Thus, a plaintiff should never settle a case against a person who was driving under the influence for the same amount of money that they would settle any other case. The case will always be worth more money than a typical Drunk Driving Accidents or wrongful death case, and may be worth many more times the usual value of the case, depending upon the seriousness of defendant’s misconduct.

Do I need an attorney to pursue my case against a defendant who was driving under the influence?

Yes. You will need an attorney to help you establish the degree of impairment of the defendant. Further, a skilled attorney will understand that you will receive all of the benefit of the doubt that you will need in a case against a person driving under the influence and will prepare the damage part of your case accordingly. This will help you achieve a larger settlement or verdict than you would be able to achieve on your own.

How to handle complex oilfield accident cases

May 2, 2014 | 10:06 am


On Feb. 15, 2010, an oilfield explosion in Kern County resulted in the injuries to several local men, one of whom was represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The client suffered a multitude of injuries, including an ankle fracture, and was hospitalized for 16 days at Kern Medical Center. 

The explosion occurred where a work-over rig was preparing to install a blowout preventer on the well-head.  At the time of the incident, the crew were in the process of testing the lockscrews that secured a tubing hanger into the well-head.  This needed to be done prior to the installation of the blowout preventer. 

Moments before the explosion, the crew handed over one of the lockscrews that secured the tubing hanger. The lockscrew appeared to be faulty. The engineer on scene was holding the lock screw at the time of the explosion, while knowing that the well was under pressure. The injured plaintiffs contended that the engineer either knew, or should have known, that the well-head presented a danger to all personnel on scene, once the lock screw was removed.  The engineer was in the process of showing the lockscrew to an employee of the firm that designed the well-head, in the moments preceding the explosion.  That employee also should have known about the danger, and should have exercised his stop work authority, and thus avoided the explosion.

Eventually, our oilfield accident attorneys settled the case against both the engineer and the company that manufactured the well-head for a confidential amount.

As you can see, oilfield accident cases involve a variety of complex legal issues that are often difficult to understand for clients. Our lawyers have extensive experience handling oilfield accident cases across the state of California. In fact, no other law firm in the state of California has more experience handling oilfield accident cases than our law firm. We have obtained more multi-million dollar results on behalf of oilfield accident victims than any other law firm in the state of California.

To better accommodate the needs of those who have been injured in an oilfield accident, our California oilfield accident attorneys have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions for oilfield accident cases. If after reviewing the information here you still have questions, please feel free to call the firm at 661-323-4000.

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I was injured in the oilfields. Do I have a workers’ compensation* case?
In nearly every oilfield injury case, the injured worker has a workers’ compensation* claim.  In California, if you are injured on the job, while you are on the clock, you have a workers’ compensation* claim, and you are entitled to workers’ compensation* benefits.  Workers’ compensation* will cover your medical expenses, temporary disability, and in many cases, compensation for permanent disability.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has a workers’ compensation* practice to assist you in obtaining these benefits.

If I am injured on the job in the oilfields, do I have a personal injury case against someone other than my employer? 
In many cases, the answer is yes. Often times, injuries occur in the oilfields due to the negligence of someone other than your employer.  In other words, if you were injured in an oilfield because of the actions of another contractor on the job, someone other than your employer, you may have an independent personal injury case against that contractor.  We call this a “third party case.”  In making a third party personal injury claim against a contractor other than your employer, you can claim more in damages than you may recover in your workers’ compensation* case.  For example, unlike workers’ compensation, your third party case against a contractor other than your employer may result in you recovering damages for pain and suffering, as well as all of your economic losses, such as loss of earnings and loss of future earning capacity.  If you have been injured in the oilfields, and you think someone other than your employer was at fault, please call Chain | Cohn | Stiles so we may evaluate your case.

I live outside Kern County.  Will you take my case?
Yes.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles regularly takes cases outside of Kern County, California.  Given our expertise in handling oilfield cases, we are often contacted by injured rig hands, contractors, roustabouts, welders and tool pushers throughout California.  In addition, we regularly employ experts from all over the State of California and the United States.  If you have been injured in the oilfields anywhere in California, contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles and tell us about your case.

Do you take offshore oil rig cases?
Yes.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles can help you if you have been injured on an offshore drilling platform.

If I get hurt on a drilling, workover, or oil well service rig do I have a case against someone other than my employer?
In many cases, the answer is yes.  Rarely is work in the oilfields performed by only one contractor.  For example, there are often third party contractors working in conjunction with the drilling rig crew on a drilling operation, or production rig crew on a maintenance or workover operation.  If you are injured in part because of an action or failure by one of these third party contractors, you may have a case against someone other than your employer.  In our experience, it is more likely that an injury in the oilfields involves, at least in part, the negligence of a third party contractor, other than your employer.  These cases can be quite complicated.  In light of this, please give us a call so we can discuss the facts of your case.

How many oilfield injury cases has your firm handled?
Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been serving oilfield workers in Bakersfield, Kern County, and California for the last 80 years.  During this time our lawyers have handled hundreds of oilfield injury cases.  Remember, your oilfield injury case may involve both workers’ compensation* and a third party (someone other than your employer) claim.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has attorneys that can handle both the workers’ compensation* and third party claim, and our attorneys will work together to make certain that your rights are fully protected.

Does your firm hire experts for my case?
Yes.  As part of almost every oilfield injury case, experts are an integral piece of the case.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles regularly employs experts from throughout the United States.  These experts, be it metallurgists, steam engineers, drilling and production engineers, and pipeline engineers, are all recognized as leading authorities in their fields.  We understand that retaining the right experts is often a key to our clients’ success.  In almost every instance, it is important to retain experts, and conduct inspections, as soon as possible.  With this in mind, please contact as to discuss your case as soon as practically possible after you have been injured.

If you take my oilfield injury case, does it cost me anything upfront?
No.  At Chain | Cohn | Stiles we handle your case on a contingent fee basis.  This means you pay us nothing out of your pocket.  We only get paid if we are able to resolve your case.

I was injured in the oilfields.  Can I get help with my medical expenses?
Often times, oilfield injuries will result in a workers’ compensation* claim.  In these circumstances, we can help you obtain benefits to cover your medical expenses and temporary disability benefits.  In addition, should your case result in a claim against a contractor other than your employer, you may be entitled to greater compensation, including pain and suffering.

If I am hurt in the oilfields do I have a case against the lease owner?
At times, oilfield injury cases can be filed against the lease owner.  In other words, if you were injured in the oilfields, and the lease owner did something to contribute to your injury, you may have the basis for a lawsuit against the lease owner.  This is an area of law that is constantly evolving in California.  Recent decisions like Seabright v. U.S. Airways, Inc., (2011) 52 Cal.4th 590, and Hooker v. Department of Transportation, (2002) 27 Cal.4th 198, have changed the way an injured oilfield worker can seek damages against the lease owner.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has closely followed the changes in the law.  We have seen many successes over the years in seeking damages from lease owners, including recent successes.  If you have a potential claim against a lease owner, please contact us.

If I am injured on the job by someone other than my employer, do I have a case?
Yes.  Under these circumstances you may have both a workers’ compensation* case, because you were injured on the job, and a case against the other party who caused your injury.  The case against the other party, someone other than your employer, is called a “third party personal injury” case.  If you have been injured by a third party, please contact us to discuss the facts of your case.  A third party case often times allows you to obtain more compensation than you can recover in your workers’ compensation* claim.

I exercised my stop work authority on a job because I saw someone doing something dangerous.  Now, my employer has retaliated against me and fired me.  Do I have a case?
You may have a case for wrongful termination.  In addition to our personal injury practice, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has attorneys who can help you with your wrongful termination case.  If you feel like you have been wrongfully terminated from your employment, please contact us to discuss your case.

* Update: Chain | Cohn | Stiles is no longer accepting wrongful termination and sexual harassment cases *

I have a relative who died as a result of an oilfield injury.  Do you handle wrongful death cases?
Yes.  If you or your family have suffered the loss of a loved one due to an oilfield injury, please contact us so we can discuss the case with you.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has 80 years of experience handling wrongful death claims.

I want an attorney who understands oilfield work.  Do you have attorneys who can understand what I do?
Yes.  We understand that oilfield work is unique, requires significant training, and, in some instances, can be dangerous.  We have attorneys who have prior experience working in the oilfields.  Additionally, we have over a hundred years of combined experience working on oilfield cases.  Our attorneys understand that oilfield work has a language unto itself, with numerous terms that are specific to oilfield work.  We know how important it is to understand these terms, so we can effectively communicate with our clients.

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Since California has become one of the top oil-producing states in the United States over the past century, the oil industry serves as a major source for employment opportunities in California. Even though safety is a concern of the oil industry, serious oilfield accidents still occur. Because oilfield accident cases often involve complex legal and factual issues, it is important that you hire an oilfield accident attorney that has both a strong grasp of the industry as well as the knowledge and resources to stand toe-to-toe with large and powerful oil companies.

The oilfield accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles are amongst the most experienced in California when it comes to representing victims of oilfield accidents. Over the years, the law firm has successfully represented countless victims of oilfield accidents resulting from negligent drilling and maintenance operations, explosions, blow-ins, OSHA violations and defective equipment. If you or someone you know has been injured in an oilfield accident, please contact an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles immediately.

*Notice:  Making a false or fraudulent worker’s compensation claim is a felony subject to up to five (5) years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000.00 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles helps families with legal questions at Delano street faire

April 24, 2014 | 10:20 am


Earlier this week, Chain | Cohn | Stiles took park in the Delano Chamber of Commerce‘s “Cinco de Mayo Fiesta and Street Faire.” It was a chance for our law firm to answer local resident’s questions, share tips and information, and give out Chain | Cohn | Stiles goodies to the families in Delano and throughout Kern County.

Several Delano parents asked us about workers’ compensation cases. One Delano resident in particular hired a Los Angeles attorney to help him with his workers’ compensation case, but that attorney had done a poor job at communicating with him, and at resolving his case, he said. We explained to him that many residents in Kern County have this problem: They seek counsel from lawyers outside of our county — after getting their information from television commercials or other loud advertisements that these outside lawyers make — and quickly realize they made a mistake.

In fact, many times, the workers’ compensation*, social security disability and personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles get calls from clients who were unsatisfied with the attorneys they hired from Los Angeles, Fresno and other areas outside of Kern County.

As for the concerned Delano resident seeking workers’ compensation assistance — who was an employee of a prison in Delano — we helped him with the next steps he should take, and he vowed to call us for assistance.

Other Delano residents remarked to us that they had seen our commercials on television, and were impressed with their quality, and by the words of the attorneys.

And many others were happy to learn that the son of a longtime and well-known Delano pediatrician was one of our associate attorneys. Dr. Dilbagh Gehlawat of Delano Pediatrics Group for decades has taken care of children and families in Delano, and many times brought along his youngest son, Neil Gehlawat, to the office — from childhood to adulthood. Several people at the street fair remarked, “Is that little Neil?,” when they noticed him in brochures we were handing out. Now, Neil Gehlawat handles personal injury cases at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, while his father continues to serve families of Delano and Kern County.

The street faire — held on Main Street between 9th and 12 avenues — also featured booths from other service providers from throughout Kern County, though Chain | Cohn | Stiles was the sole Kern County law firm in attendance. Other booths included  Sunset Waste Systems and Delano Area Rapid Transit, to name a few.

Our message to the people of Delano was essentially this: We hope you never need a personal injury attorney, but if you do happen to need one, we would hope you choose a local, professional, and caring Kern County lawyer, like the ones at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Besides at Delano events, you can also find our law firm’s and lawyer’s information at several Delano restaurants and business — including Sylvia’s Clerical Solutions and Lupe’s Restaurant, among others.

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Wondering if you’re eligible for Social Security Disability benefits? Find out here

April 21, 2014 | 2:07 pm


Have you stopped working because of a physical or mental health problem? Has the problem lasted for a year or more, or will it?

If you said “yes” to either question, Social Security Disability may be able to pay you and give you medical insurance.

So what is Social Security Disability? It’s a federal government program that provides assistance to people with disabilities. The process to apply can be long and confusing. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has developed a “fast facts” sheet to figure out if you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Slide through the pictures in this blog to read them and learn more.

The Bakersfield Social Security lawyers at CCS have also compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers related to Social Security Disability.

Q: Why should I apply for benefits? 

A: Entitlement to Social Security Disability allows you to receive monthly disability benefit checks for you and, in some cases, your family. In most cases, you will also receive a large lump sum payment for back benefits owed to you. 

You can become eligible for Medicare after two years of entitlement to disability benefits.

Even if you are getting Workers’ Compensation and/or long-term disability (LTD) benefits, your total present income may increase and you may be entitled to hundreds or thousands of dollars in back benefits.

Even though many group LTD policies offset other disability benefits, most policies do not offset Social Security’s annual cost of living increases. In addition, some policies only offset your individual benefits and not your family’s, and many policies have a minimum benefit payment that is not offset.

Your Social Security payments may be tax free depending on your other income, whereas LTD benefits are often taxable.

Q: Who is eligible for Social Security Benefits?

A: If you have worked long enough at a job where you pay Social Security taxes and have become disabled, you are probably eligible for disability benefits.

Even if you’ve never worked or haven’t earned very much money at your jobs, you may be eligible to get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, that are for low-income people with disabilities.

Q: What does “Disabled” mean?

A “Disability” can be physical, emotional, mental, or a combination. The condition has to be serious enough to keep you from working and earning enough money for at least one year.

Q: I can’t do the job I used to do – am I disabled?

A: The test isn’t whether you can go back to a job you’ve lost. The test is whether you are physically and emotionally capable of doing a job that is generally available in the everyday work place.

Q: I am too old and no one will hire me – can I get disability?

A: Not necessarily.  The test isn’t whether you’ve been able to find a job recently or the chance that someone would hire you. There are some special rules called the Medical-vocational Guidelines that can help older people qualify for disability more easily. A knowledgeable attorney can help you make sense of those rules.

Q: I have a disabling condition but I’m not seeing a doctor – can I get disability?

A: You must have a doctor say that you are disabled “by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory findings.” Unfortunately, many genuinely disabled people can’t get benefits because they aren’t getting the right kind of medical treatment.

Q: I have a disabling condition and my doctor says I should be getting disability – why did I get denied benefits?

A: Unfortunately, many genuinely disabling conditions are difficult to diagnose or prove. In cases like that, it is up to your legal representative to present your doctor’s reports properly, and to convince the government that you deserve your benefits.

 

For several more Frequently Asked Questions and answers, go HERE, or visit our specialized web site dedicated to Social Security Disability.

And if you have any questions related to Social Security Disability, please call CCS. The attorneys at CCS — including Erica Scott and James Yoro — offer a free in-person consultation to discuss eligibility and there is no charge to speak to us on the phone.

 

Take the pledge: April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

April 4, 2014 | 9:59 am


Put down the cell phone, and stay alive.

That’s the message this month from the National Safety Council and National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration as April is “National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.”

Thousands die each year due to people using their cell phones while driving. In fact, here are some startling statistics, courtesy of the safety council:

  • The No. 1 cause of unintentional deaths in the United States is car crashes.
  • About 100 people die every day in car crashes.
  • Up to 90 percent of car crashes are caused by driver error.
  • At any moment, 9 percent of drivers are talking on cell phones.
  • About 26 percent of all car crashes involve cell phones or hands-free devices.
  • The NHTSA estimates that 3,328 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes in 2012.

As part of the month-long campaign, officials want drivers to pledge to drive cell-free, recognize that hands-free devices offer no safety benefit, understand the dangers of the cognitive distraction to the brain, and tell others about the dangers of cell phone distracted driving.

Down south, too, the Los Angeles Police Department kicked off the “Look Up!” campaign, in partnership with the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration’s “National Distracted Driving Awareness Month”. It’s aimed to bring awareness to the public about the dangers of texting and driving.

For example, statistics show that every time a driver sends a text message he looks at the phone for an average of 4.6 seconds, and in that time a car driving 55 mph will go the length of a football field, according to CBS-2 Los Angeles.

And remember, it’s the law in California, where there’s a ban on hand-held devices for drivers and for texting while driving.

So, are you taking the pledge? To learn more about these facts, the dangers, and what you can do, visit the National Safety Council website.

And for more information, tips and resources on what to do if you’re ever in a car accident in and around Bakersfield and need legal assistance, no matter the type of accident, visit our two websites, HERE and HERE.